Pros: The lighting director, Simeon Miller, should stand up and take a bow. The same goes for newcomer Alice Dillon.
Cons: The writing lets everything else down.
Gaman translates as “enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity”. Watching The Art of Gaman at Theatre503 certainly felt like an act of endurance at times, but like a good audience member I endured, politely watching as my confusion grew and my patience was severely tested.
The Art of Gaman isn’t a poor show in all respects, in fact it has much to redeem it. The incredible lighting in the tiny confines of Theatre503 is possibly worth a visit alone, with mesmerising soft images that flow across the stage. The simplicity of the staging is also excellent. Layers of soft drapes, constantly opened and closed to change the feel of the stage space, combined with the lighting, make this a beautiful visual experience. And special mention goes to Alice Dillon for her New York fishmonger, her accent so convincing that I had to check she wasn’t in fact a native New Yorker. I was equally shocked to read this was her professional debut! Great things await.
The story addresses an interesting topic, in the suppression of Japanese in America due to mistrust, and of course that Gaman, that bearing the unbearable. It follows Tomomi, played by both Tomoko Komura and You-Ri Yamanaka, through her life. From her move to America in 1942, through to her hospital bed, breathing her last breaths in the present day. At the outset she is excited, optimistic, and dreaming of being an actor in Hollywood. But her life doesn’t pan out that way, and the war changes everything, as the distrust of Japanese in America means she has to marry to avoid an internment camp. Scenes speed by as Tomomi tolerates her life and those around her, especially her husbands.
What ultimately lets The Art of Gaman down is, quite simply, the writing. It feels like a play put together by throwing every idea into a pot and accepting that whatever come out was the finished article. This is a play that needs a thorough editing to bind all those ideas together, or to take a few out and give others the space to develop. Concepts come and go, and what could be great ideas start but are never fully developed. There are some beautiful moments, especially when films are referenced; Komura and Dillon’s re-enactment of a scene from Lawrence of Arabia is a beautiful moment, but it just feels out of place, an add-on to fill a space. Film references suddenly turn to metaphors of fish. One or the other please, not both. More annoying is the use of the radio Tomomi carries constantly, talking the thoughts that are in her head, which others may or may not hear, it really isn’t that clear. The meaning of all this is lost on me, and while I adore a little ambiguity, this strayed well into the territory of incoherence.
The Art Of Gaman is a play with potential. It’s a play that feels like it could have said something, but required a whole lot more work before it was ever put on the stage.
Written by: Dipika Guha
Directed by: Ailin Conant
Produced by: Theatre503 & Helen Milne Productions
Lighting & Projection Design: Simeon Miller
Box Office: 020 7978 7040
Booking link: https://theatre503.com/whats-on/the-art-of-gaman/?spektrix_bounce=true
Booking until: 27 October 2018